American tour part 1: Kacheishvili wins in Las Vegas

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American tour part 1: Kacheishvili wins in Las VegasSeveral months ago IM Robert Ris decided to visit his relatives in the US for Christmas. Our co-editor couldn't resist participating in at least one of the American open tournaments, and reports from America for ChessVibes. In part 1 he tells about the North American Open, held in gambling mecca Las Vegas and won on tiebreak by GM Giorgi Kacheishvili.

By IM Robert Ris

When I decided several months ago to visit my relatives in the US for Christmas, I simply forced myself to participate in at least one of the American open tournaments. It's well-known they differ in various aspects from other opens in the rest of the world. Double rounds, no conditions for titleholders and except from the GMs everybody has to pay around $250 entry fee. On the other hand an amazing prize fund of $120,000 is guaranteed, divided over the different sections. This means in the U1300 group players are competing for an attractive first prize of $6,000. Not a bad prospect for amateurs enjoying a short holiday in gambling mecca Las Vegas.

The playing hall was located in a ballroom of Bally's Casino Resort, one of the many grand hotels on the Strip. With a total number of 695 players participating, the tournament would get, in any place on earth but Vegas, the attention it deserves. When checking in the hotel, most of the staff members were unaware a chess tournament would take place at all! A bit strange, though on the other hand understandable taking into account the thousands of people who are trying their luck on some other tables. Fortunately, after being sent from person to person, only a cleaning worker could point me out the right direction. We're in Vegas, guys!

Another new aspect for me was the different number of day schedules. Apart from the standard tournament formula of seven rounds in four days, the US chess tour organisation offers players the possibility to go through the event in three days. It's a very attractive option for a lot of people, as it saves them one day, while their first three rounds are played with a shortened time control. From the 4th round both groups merge and all games need to be played with the classical time control of 2h + 1h and five seconds delay.

Akobian vs Friedel

Akobian vs Friedel (0-1), top board in round 4

This brings me to another important rule which applies in the American chess scene. People have to bring their own chess sets and clocks. In my opinion there's nothing wrong with making players responsible for bringing their own material, though on the other hand it sometimes leads to some serious delay of games as well. It's quite hilarious to reach an endgame after twenty moves, while next to you some are still setting up the pieces to start their games.

Before moving on to the event itself, I would like to mention a more serious note. It's quite remarkable cell phones are allowed in the playing hall. Better said: it's forbidden in the regulations, but not in practice. I don't think anyone could explain me why arbiters don't act at all when kibitzers are texting on their cell phone while standing within a metre from the nearest board. Even more strange are the number of headphones spotted in the playing hall, which is in fact accepted in the official regulations. In a era where cheating paranoia is reigning in the chess world I find that unacceptable when people are playing for such huge amounts of money. Possibly I should come back next time having my ChessVibes Openings analysis recorded on my iPhone...

Enough about my first impressions of the American tour - let's return to the open section. Not surprisingly a lot of professionals give a shot claiming the first prize of $10,000. Regular guests of the American circuit, Ilya Smirin (2654), Loek van Wely (2666) and US Olympic team members Yuri Shulman (2629) and Varuzhan Akobian (2618), were the top seeds, but couldn't really cope with the expectations. As the days are filled with double rounds there is no time for serious preparation. In that way the American opens distinguishes from regular opens as well. As the tournament only lasts seven rounds no one can permit himself short draws, since there is no time to recover from the half point investment. There's no reason to include any anti-quick-draw measures in the announcement!

Giorgi Kacheishvili

Giorgi Kacheishvili, who edged out Jiri Stocek on tiebreak to win a few hundred dollars more

And as explained above, no quick draws were noticed at all! The surprising leader after five rounds was 24-year-old Joshua Friedel (2505), who on his way defeated vice US Champion Shulman amongst others. The gap between success and failure is very narrow, which Friedel can probably better explain now, as in his last two games against GMs Jiri Stocek (2567) and Giorgi Kacheishvili (2575) he couldn't add any points to his collection. In fact only both of Friedel's conquerors finally tied for the first spot. Czech GM Stocek easily dealt with the usual aggressive style of four-time US Champion Alexander Shabalov (2591) and got his desirable draw. So, many contenders could catch up, but only New York resident Kacheishvili utilized the opportunity with his beloved Caro-Kann. It should be said that in the penultimate round Smirin brought the Georgian born GM in serious trouble in the same opening, but narrowly let him escape with a strong knight sacrifice in the endgame.

North American Open 2010 | Final standings
North American Open 2010 | Final standings

And so the American tour of 2010 came to its end. An amazing experience, which I would like to recommend to any fanatic tournament player. During the event, however, there was almost no time for anything else, but these four days were certainly worth it (despite my disappointing result, which I wisely tried to avoid mentioning in this report!). The next big open tournament doesn't have to wait long, as it's scheduled from 2-8 January in Berkeley (Bay Area, San Francisco). At the moment this article is published, the author of these lines is playing there as well. And yes, I will provide the dear ChessVibes readers with another report.

Let me make use of the opportunity to wish you all a healthy and prosperous New Year with a lot of chess related excitement!

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